Food is one of those expenses that can go either way in Costa Rica, depending on what you buy and where you shop. Fruits and veggies are fresher and regularly cheaper than in the States, no matter where you go. Most cooking supplies and ingredients are cheaper if you buy the Costa Rican brand. Expect your food costs to rise significantly if you only buy goods imported from the US, since you are paying heavy taxes on those foods. You’ll find, if you dare to try them, that many of the Costa Rican brand foods are just as delicious as American brands.
Grocery Stores in Costa Rica, from most expensive to least expensive
AutoMercado– This store is chock-full of imported American goods and gourmet items. Expect to pay a lot if you’re shopping here, but many things, like the meat and produce, are higher quality than other grocery stores.
Fresh Market– Another pricey spot, Fresh Market features a lot of pre-made food items, American ice creams, etc etc.
Perimercado– This is a more typical grocery store. Pricing here and for Mas x Menos below is about equivalent.
Mas x Menos– If you’re trying to keep it cheap, Mas x Menos has loads of great meats, produce, and products for lower prices than stores like Automercado.
Pali– This is the bare bones of shopping. With very little imported stuff, you’ll get the most bang for your buck when doing your grocery shopping at Pali. Unfortunately, they don’t always carry necessities, like tampons, for instance. So you may have to combine shopping at Pali AND another grocery store to get everything you need.
Housing is hands-down one of the most important expenses in Costa Rica. While you can live the luxe life in a beachfront condo in Costa Rica, you WILL most likely pay a lot for it. If you’re willing to make some sacrafices, you can find a nice little house or Tico apartment to suit your needs for less than you might in the States.
A good rule of thumb is, the further it is from San Jose, the less it will cost (unless you’re right on the beach). There are many suburbs within the Central Valley but not so close to San Jose as to be expensive, such as Grecia, Guapiles, San Isidro, and Alajuela. Most of these places have bustling town centers, plenty of shopping, and easy public transportation to get you into the city for a day of exploring or shopping.
Example Budget Lifestyle for $1,000 a month
1 Bdrm Apt. Rent (with water included): $350
Phone (prepaid): about $8 a month
Leftover for going out, medical stuff, pets, etc: $355
If you budget yourself, it’s extremely easy to live in less. You just have to be a bargain shopper and be willing to give up the things you don’t need or use, such as cable TV or lots of expensive nights out at restaurants.
You can make the Costa Rica cost of living work to your advantage. You just have to be smart about it.